Colin Legum

Fleet Street's first Africa correspondent

Colin Legum, writer and journalist: born Kestell, South Africa 3 January 1919; married 1941 Eugenie Leon (died 1960; one son deceased), 1960 Margaret Roberts (three daughters); died Cape Town 8 June 2003.

After spending half of his life as a successful journalist, writer and broadcaster in Britain, Colin Legum asserted that he had never become "an assimilated Englishman". His "Free State upbringing had bred a murg en been [bred in the bone] South African". He saw "the decolonisation of Africa from a front-row seat" and as Fleet Street's first Africa correspondent, on David Astor's Observer, he had reported and interpreted the African transformation in a way that helped create a sympathetic, well-informed body of opinion in Britain and beyond.

He was able also, through the friendships he established with the leaders of the emergent Africa of the 1950s and 1960s, to ease their relationships with their former British masters and to build bridges with highly placed American friends.

Legum was not a sudden convert to African aspirations. Born in the Orange Free State dorp of Kestell, where his Lithuanian immigrant parents kept the local hotel, he was schooled with the local Afrikaans children until at 17 he headed for Johannesburg and found work as office boy at the new, local Sunday Express, whose political correspondent he became after only two years.

He was already an embryonic Africanist, avant les lettres, but also a staunch Zionist. Rejection of Marxism-Leninism and socialist-democratic convictions brought him on to the reform movement in the South African (white) Labour Party, on whose ticket he was elected to the Johannesburg City Council in 1942. While editing its weekly Forward and The Mineworker for the Labour Party he became City Council Leader and chaired the General Purposes Committee.

With a black population explosion in Johannesburg, he was, as chair of the Special Housing Committee, the adversary of shanty-town bosses beyond the law. His epic struggle with the most notorious of these, James Mpanza, in a part of what is now Soweto, left scars on his relationship with the Communist Party which were reopened 50 years later by an attack on his role in Joe Slovo's posthumous autobiography, Slovo (1995).

Legum saw more clearly than most that the advent of the Afrikaner Nationalists to power in 1948 had put an end, perhaps for his lifetime, to his political hopes for the country which was no place for a crusading journalist. As General Secretary of the Labour Party he had tried to ally it with General Jan Smuts's United Party, defeated by D.F. Malan's Nationalists that same year. Smuts told him:

Reaction has struck its roots very deep in this land of ours. It will take years to overcome it - but don't tell the people that.

Not words for an idealistic newspaperman.

He came to London in 1949 with few contacts and Fleet Street seemed impregnable until work on a research team at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations brought him into contact with a fellow Freudian also undergoing psychoanalysis, the millionaire owner and neophyte editor of The Observer. David Astor, who had a flair for fruitful association with, among others, Adam von Trott, George Orwell and the Rev Michael Scott, pioneer spokesman for dispossessed communities at the United Nations, identified Colin Legum as a key player in the struggle ahead to end apartheid, which he saw as a disease that might spread if unchecked. This was part of the cause of African freedom and the end of colonial rule throughout Africa, put in peril by growing British reaction to the gruesome downside of the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya.

A programme for change was defined in a Penguin Special of 1952, Attitude to Africa, written by Scott, Legum, W. Arthur Lewis and Martin Wight and activated by the launch that year of the all-party Africa Bureau, with Scott (deported by the Smuts government in 1946) as its director and another South African exile, Mary Benson, its secretary.

Its offshoots the Africa Publications and Education Trusts were early prophets of and agents for change in Africa. Legum was active in both, but in the clash between Scott, with Astor, and Christian Action in the person of Canon John Collins, a newcomer to the southern African cause, Legum - not always easy to get on with in those competitive years - remained a close friend of all of them.

The bureau became an important mouthpiece for progressive policies towards Bechuanaland, the ill-conceived Central African Federation, the independence movement in Namibia and elsewhere, with an influence beyond Westminster, in the Commonwealth and at the UN. The Observer provided vital press backing to its work, through Legum, Anthony Sampson and a growing team of Africanists.

Legum's exile life runs like a thread through the developments in Africa - from the hurricane-like "wind of change", the Congo disasters, Biafra, the end of Portuguese Africa, to the struggle for freedom in Namibia and elsewhere.

In 1960, after the death of his wife, who had followed him to England with their son in the Tavistock days, he married Margaret Roberts, South African economist, political activist and Fabian, and together they published South Africa: crisis for the West (1964), the first appeal for sanctions against the apartheid government in South Africa. They were banned from South Africa in 1962 (and later from Southern Rhodesia) but managed a memorable tour by hopping from one quasi-independent "Bantustan" to another, scattered as they were like inkblots over the Transvaal, Natal and the Cape.

With the transfer of The Observer to "Tiny" Rowland in 1982, Legum, by then Associate Editor, ended 30 years with the paper, which had taken him to some 70 countries, and carried millions of words in his articles. The last of his many books was published in 1998 as Africa since Independence, and offers a realistic profit-and-loss account and a cautious but hopeful scenario for the years ahead.

In 1996, the Legums made their home in Kob Cottage, overlooking Kalk Bay fishing harbour near Cape Town, where Colin continued his long-running annual Africa Contemporary Record and his Third World Reports feature service. Annual visits to Britain, trout fishing, gardening and children and grandchildren played a larger part than before but he was full of energy - giving a course on African developments at the University of Cape Town summer school in January this year.

He was given honorary degrees by Rhodes University, Grahamstown (who neatly made him doctor legum - doctor of laws) and the University of South Africa in Pretoria. Though there was perhaps a lack of recognition from the ANC government - ex-President Nelson Mandela excepted - despite his 50 years of loyal, unstinting support, he was widely seen as a grandfather figure among the apostles of African emancipation, South African democracy and in the larger field of human rights.

Randolph Vigne

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities